Nokia Lumia 800 quickly from Germany

The first Nokia Windows Phone, Lumia 800 is not available in very many countries yet. Nokia is not shipping it in Finland yet, and they haven’t sent test devices for media even today. So I got tire of waiting and ordered the device from Germany.

I used a German online store  comtech.de which is now selling Lumia 800 for 439 euros plus some shipping costs.  I paid using my credit card connected with my Amazon.co.uk account.  They seem to ship to 24 countries in addition to Germany. The store is in German, but you only have to know a few German words (start by clicking ‘jetzt kaufen’, buy now). Unfortunately only the black colour seemed to be available.

I ordered it online on Monday last week, and it was on my home front door on Friday. I wasn’t at home, since I was at work, and DHL once again didn’t bother to call me. Don’t they ever learn?. So I finally got it on Monday.

The black Lumia 800 I received is a device tailored for T-Mobile.  That means the T-Mobile logo will show during the boot for a few seconds. The initial language is German, you can change it to one of those almost 20 languages WP Mango supports at the moment.  

Amazon.de also seems to sell Lumia 800 now, but  I haven’t confirmed how many countries they ship to.  

The device also comes pre-installed with some T-Mobile apps and services in German language which don’t even seem to work with my Finnish SIM card. That’s not a problem, because you can easily remove them.  I’ve now used this for almost two days without any problems.

However,  I had a bit hassle with the Windows Live ID. Microsoft has limited the amount of mobile devices connected to a Live account to five devices. As I test many devices,  I have had five different WP smartphones. I removed those old devices on WindowsPhone.com, but that didn’t seem to be enough.  WP notified I need to install the Zune client for Windows and remove the old devices there. The Mac client for WP I’m using does not support this. I solved this by creating a new Live ID with a new e-mail alias. I also had to reset Lumia 800 to factory default settings.

Of course, this hassle is not Nokia’s fault. However, this Live ID account limitation is good to remember if you play with many WP devices.

A few of my friends have order Lumia 800 from Germany too, because even many developers interested in the Windows Phone platform haven’t been able to get this device from Nokia yet. I hope the situation will improve quickly, as there aren’t very many Finnish apps or services on the WP Marketplace yet.

Positive impressions: HTC Radar and Nokia Lumia 800

Nokia Lumia 800 is coming to the Finnish market sometime early next year. Only the black model was on show this week.My first experiences of using Windows Phone Mango were not very good, because the LG device I tested was unreliable, and often sluggish in performance too. Now I have had chance to try two newer WP 7.5 (Mango) smartphones, and I am fairly optimistic about the platform.

First I got to try HTC Radar for over two weeks now. It has been reliable and smooth. I haven’t experienced any of the problems I had with the LG device. A few of my friends commented they have had the same LG E900 model without same kind of problems. So I may have had an unlucky bad sample from the factory.

HTC Radar has the basic specifications and nothing special. The aluminum unibody chassis has the same feeling and style alike many others, such as Nokia N8. I think the gray and black colours are boring. CPU is the minimum required for WP 7.5, Qualcomm Snapdragon based Scorpion running at 1 GHz, but I haven’t experienced any performance problems. However, there’s one major disappoinment, the camera: HTC has never put very much effort in this area, and HTC Radar is even worse than many others. Especially in low light and with the LED light results are awful.

HTC Radar is a no surprises business phone with a decent 3,8 inch screen. I can recommend it, if you get a tempting enough price offer. I would not pay very much for this, because better options are on the way soon.

* * *

The second Windows Phone 7.5 smartphone I played with is the highly anticipated Nokia Lumia 800. Microsoft held two events, Hello Helsinki for consumers and TechNet for developers and IT pros. There I had the chance to try Lumia 800, but just for about one hour, in two sessions. Even though Lumia 800 does not yet bring anything very special to the Windows Phone platform, I have to say it’s absolutely the best looking and feeling Windows Phone device so far. It’s almost as great piece of art as Nokia N9, and somewhat even better.

Lumia 800 has got very good reviews online. Many have written it’s probably the best smartphone Nokia has ever done. Of course, it’s good to note Americans haven’t got most of Nokia’s smartphones to the United States, and it seems they never got used to Symbian. Nokia N9 (MeeGo) is not shipping there either.

Lumia 800 has the same kind of nice polycarbonate chassis as N9, which means a special quality of plastic. In this case plastic is not a bad thing, because the device feels very robust and sturdy. And the material enables having very vivid colours of cyan, magenta and black. And if you scratch the device, the colour surface should remain the same, because all of the plastic material has been painted. The last argument is from Nokia, I haven’t actually seen that in real life yet.

Nokia Lumia 800 contains the same physical size as Nokia N9, but the display is only 3,7 inch diagonal, compared to 3,9 inch of N9. Lumia 800 has one benefit, a special camera button, which also works when the device is in device lock mode (thanks to Windows Phone).

Nokia has put some unique software features, such as an online radio music player, and most importantly, a full car navigation software with voice guidance.

Looking at hardware specifications, Nokia Lumia 800 is not the best WP Mango device available. HTC and Samsung have models with front cameras for video calls. HTC Titan also boasts an impressive 4,7 inch screen and faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 1,5 GHz processor.

I was disappointed to note Lumia 800 uses the same, very modest standard camera application of the Windows Phone platform. As mobile cameras are Nokia’s core know-how, I would have expected them to shine in this area with the same kind of an application we’ve seen on MeeGo and Symbian. I took a few pictures live at the event, but I couldn’t figure the image quality based on that yet. However, in those dim light conditions the result did not look as good as what I’ve used to with N8 and N9 based on what I saw on the screen.

Albert Shum was a keynote speaker at the Microsoft TechNet event. There was a whole one day track about the Windows Phone UI for Finnish developers.
Albert Shum was a keynote speaker at the Microsoft TechNet event. There was a whole one day track about the Windows Phone UI for Finnish developers.

It’s clear Nokia can do a lot better than what Lumia 800 shows, and fortunately they are already working on this. I got to meet Albert Shum from Microsoft at the same event. He is the man responsible for the Metro UI of the Windows Phone platform. Shum told they have very close co-operation with Nokia. He has described his work on this YouTube video.

Even though Shum obviously couldn’t reveal any specific new features of future Nokia device, based on the interview I’m convinced we will see more personalisation and more features specific to Nokia. The camera application and integration to other parts of the OS are important. People centric features will become even more advanced. IM and VoIP will be integrated with Lync and Skype support. Lync should come already before the end of this year, for Skype the schedule is more uncertain.

You could possibly see where people are, what they’re doing. invite them for a coffee based on your map location, or pictures taken with the camera could be shown on your map location, et cetera.

It’s also interesting to see which features will be specific to Nokia, and which ones will become available for all the vendors. I will blog more about the interview with Albert Shum if I have time later.

Nokia Maps was already available for download for Lumia 800. According to Nokia, it will become available for other vendors' Windows Phone smartphones too.
Nokia Maps was already available for download for Lumia 800. According to Nokia, it will become available for other vendors' Windows Phone smartphones too.

4G marketing getting wilder in Finland

This week the largest mobile network operator in Finland, Elisa opened their LTE (4G) network service for consumers and businesses. Before they had commercial trials with a few  enterprise customers. Elisa has LTE coverage only in Helsinki and Tampere, but they claim to offer “4G speeds” in over 100 cities by the end of this year. The trick is to call their latest 3G networks updated with the Dual-Carrier HSDPA technology as 4G too.

DC-HSDPA (also known as Dual-Cell HSDPA) improves downlink speeds up to 43 Mbps, and Elisa’s competitors DNA and Sonera (part of TeliaSonera group) are also deploying this technology in Finland. Network vendors support it too; at least the three largest mobile network vendors Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia Siemens Networks offer this as hardware and software upgrades to existing networks.

Elisa’s competitors DNA and TeliaSonera have used the term “4G” for their LTE networks which they have have in a few cities. Elisa now takes a very different approach by hyping 4G speeds soon in over 100 cities. It’s easy to guess DNA and Sonera will follow. Sonera has already commercially launched LTE service in Helsinki and Turku, and DNA will launch it by the end of this year. These pperators are now building LTE at 1800 and 2600 MHz, and they will use 800 MHz as soon as possible for wider coverage too.

Elisa showed LTE speeds with the Speedtest.net service, but they also said they won't be marketing certain maximum speeds. 4G sticks for laptops from Huawei and ZTE are quite large, and you may need a cable if you have many USB devices. They very power hungry too.
Elisa showed LTE speeds with the Speedtest.net service, but they also said they won't be marketing certain maximum speeds. 4G sticks for laptops from Huawei and ZTE are quite large, and you may need a cable if you have many USB devices. They very power hungry too.

Elisa can justify this kind of 4G marketing with a few arguments. First of all, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced in December 2010 HSPA+ technologies can also be called 4G. As far as I know, the ITU gave up under pressure from operators to accept HSPA+ as 4G too. Secondly, 4G has never been a specific technology, but instead a marketing term, said CTO of Nokia Siemens Networks Hossein Moiin when I interviewed him earlier this year.

Technology wise it also makes sense to bundle these terms, because the latest base stations and software upgrades support multiple radios and frequencies all the way from 2G (GPRS(EDGE) to 3G (UMTS(HSPA) and the latest DC-HSPA and LTE technologies. Then again, some telecommunications engineers think not until the LTE-Advanced networks (with theoretical downlink speeds up to 300 Mbps, or 1 Gbps in the future) come we can talk about real 4G.

But for consumers it’s still quite a different service, if you compare an HSPA+ modem to an LTE modem considering downlink and uplink speeds and response times (latency). Elisa has tried to make this sensible by selling different classes of speeds for flat-fee data; 19,90 euros up to 50 Mbps downlink speeds and 39,90 euros without speed limitations, which means theoritically up to 100 Mbps downlink and around 25 Mbps uplink.

Paying for the latter package only makes sense if you are on LTE coverage area, which means only Helsinki and Tampere at the moment. Elisa’s CEO Veli-Matti Mattila said in the press conference they’d build LTE coverage in many cities, but he did not share specific details yet.

However, Elisa’s executives told expanding their LTE coverage very much depends on how fast they can start deploying 800 MHz networks, and the license terms for this frequency. The Finnish government is expected to decide this by the end of this year. Some kind of an auction is likely based on a recent statement from the Ministry of Tansport and Communications.

Should we trust in Chinese mobile vendors?

A few weeks ago I got a very peculiar phone call from a man introducing himself as an economic and political officer from the Embassy of the United States in Helsinki. He wanted to meet and discuss Chinese mobile device and network vendors. Great news for me: this blog has at least one reader.

Why me? I guess because I have covered Huawei and ZTE several times. They are bringing fierce competition for European and U.S. companies, especially with lower prices. But can we trust the data traffic of our public sector or companies to them?

At first a few words about what happened after his initial contact, because… umm…, nothing as special as this has happened to me lately. I mentioned this to my friends, and they were immediately joking he (let’s call him Mr. Smith) wants to recruit me as a spy for the USA, so we should meet at the Ateljee bar on the 14th floor of the Torni hotel. That’s where CIA agents supposedly used to meet Finnish people during the cold war. 😉

Well, Mr. Smith chose the place, and so we met at the Strindberg cafeteria in the centre of Helsinki. I had searched for his name online and cellular phone number to check if his contact details are real (well, you could fake them to some extend, but I didn’t see that as a likely option).

Then the boring reality: Our meeting was not secret in any way and I don’t now work for CIA. He asked me about stuff I could blog or write a news piece for work, and for many parts I’ve already written too. He had visited the office of Huawei in Finland and met their management too.

He was very interested in hearing my opinion of why Huawei is hiring so many technical and sales people here and other Nordic countries, especially Sweden (total of around 500 employees). Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks fire, Huawei hires, you could put in short. Good technical expertise is now available for the Chinese vendors.

Due to my journalist background, I wanted to learn about Mr. Smith as much as I could during our short meeting. I found out he has lived in China for some years (Guangzhou, I recall), returned to the U.S. for about six months, and studied a little bit Finnish language. He plans to go back to China after a few years in Helsinki. I understood he speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently.

I learnt he was born in Wisconsin, and thus felt the Finnish dark and cold fall and winter are quite tolerable. He also told he used to work as journalist, but currently he reports from Helsinki to the U.S. Department of the Treasury about once or twice a week. I asked are these reports public, he said they’re for government use only. I wonder if I will be cited as a source. 😉

We discussed how Huawei and ZTE have brought price competition to mobile USB modems and Android smartphones. I also mentioned how Huawei has announced they top priority goal is to challenge Cisco in SMBs and even enterprises.

I also mentioned the CEO of TeliaSonera Lars Nyberg has praised Huawei for some technical innovations. In a press meeting, Finnish journalists speculated they are just using Huawei to negotiate lower prices from Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), but Nyberg denied this. However, even though Nordic operators have got requests for offers from Huawei too, they still seem to rely on Ericsson and NSN in the core components of they mobile networks.

I have had background discussions with technical staff of Finnish mobile operators. They have claimed Ericsson and NSN are still ahead of Huawei in some areas, but the Chinese have other benefits, such as often more flexible software licenses and upgrade options.

* * *

Now back to the title of this blog post. How about privacy and information security? Can we trust in Chinese terminal (smartphones, tablets) and network vendors? There does not seem to be pretty much any debate about this in Finland, even though I’ve heard off-the-record large companies are very cautious about this.

Most mobile USB modems (USB sticks, or ”mokkulat” in Finnish) sold through Finnish operators come from Huawei and ZTE. Finnish business and public sector organisations use them widely too. So they don’t seem to worry their data would go to China.

However, in the U.S. there has been a lot more discussion about this. For example, in October PC World reported Huawei was not allowed to deliver a wireless network, security reasons were cited.

There have been many reports about this in the American business and technlogy media, for example this Fortune story on CNN Money. Huawei already operates in over 130 countries and gets about a half of its revenues outside China. According to some reports it’s already the second largest network vendor after Cisco.

But is this resistance in the U.S. really about security and trust, or economic politics too?

Some years ago there were accusations Huawei would have stolen source code from Ericsson’s network devices. Ericsson engineers found exactly the same code, complete with spelling errors made by their own engineers. Nokia has also been worried about its IPR being stolen to China.

Huawei is scary, because the western world do not seem to believe it’s really privately held and 100% owned by emloyees, as they claim for example according to a U.S. government report (PDF).

I met the Finnish country manager of Huwei Hubert Hu in June, and he just told the same thing; the company has no ties to the Chinese army or government. According to Mr. Smith, someone else is nowadays heading their Finnish office, but I didn’t check that yet.

Of course, this is not only about Huawei. Another Chinese vendor ZTE wants to become one of the top three LTE networks providers by 2015, according to a report by research company iSuppli. ZTE is now most known for its very affordable Android smartphones.

Who knows, maybe the Chinese own Cisco in five or ten years from now? It’s no wonder they can be a bit worried in the U.S.

Windows Phone Mango still didn’t convince me

I have been using the LG Optimus 7 (LG-E900) smartphone updated with Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) for about a month now. The Mango update brought many improvements, but I still have to say I’m not happy with its reliability and performance.

A few years ago I used to say Symbian devices are reliable phones and unreliable computers. Microsoft PocketPC and later Windows Mobile devices had same kind of problems, but vice versa; they worked as handheld computers, but the phone UI and connectivity were not trustworthy.

I’ve been surprised to notice at least this LG device still has equivalent problems. Phone calls get disconnected, the device reboots itself almost once a day, and when I return to it, I notice it’s asking for my PIN code and nobody has been able to reach me for a long time. The touch UI also lags occasionally, et cetera.

Multi-tasking, as limited it is, is also not what I expected. When I keave an app or game in the background and switch back to it later, it often starts from scratch without remembering where I left it.

A few days ago Microsoft shipped an LG specific update which was supposed to fix these bugs. That didn’t happen. Calls still get disconnected and random rebooting continues. I have been asking around, and I’m not the only one with these kind of problems. According to one Microsoft source, this LG device could have hardware related problems.

Of course, this is just one device. I’ve heard more positive hands-on impressions of HTC and Samsung smartphones running WP 7.5. But I’m an engineer personality; I need to get the device on my hands to believe it works.

I have the highest expectations for Nokia Lumia 800, but I still haven’t got a chance to try it. Nokia’s communications in Finland say they don’t have those here yet. Microsoft has some kind of demo units in Finland, but they wouldn’t show them yet. I read very positive previews online, but none of them convinced me yet as real hands-on tests. I can believe the unibody polycarbonate chassis (with many colour options) is impressive, but that is not enough; the software needs to be fast, smooth and reliable.

I’m also not yet satisified with applications available for WP Mango. I want for example, Lync (business IM), Skype, Spotify, Sports Tracker and a good screen capture tool. I know they’re coming, but when? And will they be any good?

Helsinki-based Sports Tracking Technologies Ltd just recently announced Sports Tracker for Nokia N9 (MeeGo Harmattan), and they’are developing a Windows Phone version too. But, Microsoft still doesn’t support Bluetooth heart-rate belts on their Bluetooth interface. Sports Tracker developers are working on this with Microsoft and Nokia, but there’s not a date for this update.

As a Finland specific note, lots of companies have released apps and services for Android, iOS, Symbian and MeeGo, but when I go to Windows Phone Marketplace in Finland, I can’t find pretty much anything local. Fortunately at least the largest newspaper in Finland (Helsingin Sanomat) is working on a Windows Phone app, so maybe things are finally starting to happen. This is a bit surprising, because Microsoft has usually been good in tempting developers to support their platforms. I have set Finland as my location, but it’s possible there still are some issues with local content.

As an annoying detail, WP Mango does not support firmware over the air (FOTA) updates. Instead you need to use the OS X or Windows client.
As an annoying detail, WP Mango does not support firmware over the air (FOTA) updates. Instead you need to use the OS X or Windows client.